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The Frontlines of Food Safety

Dining out can be a real treat. My colleagues and I in the Health Department Food & Community Safety program enjoy sampling the same wonderful restaurants, food trucks, and cafés here in Pierce County as you do. We take pride in making sure they are safe places to eat for everyone.

Why do we need food inspections?

The short answer is to prevent foodborne illness, which can make you sick and, in some cases, is deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates each year one in six Americans—or 48 million people—get sick from foodborne illnesses like norovirus, E. coli, or salmonella. About 128,000 of them get so sick they have to go to the hospital. And 3,000 of them die.

How food inspections work

Think of food inspections as routine check-ups with your doctor. If you exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and eat right—maybe just an occasional cupcake or two—you get a clean bill of health. But if you need to exercise more or lower your numbers, your doctor lays out a plan to help you. Plus, you may need follow-up appointments. We do something similar with food establishments. Restaurants without challenges get their required number of annual inspections. If establishments face challenges, we work in partnership with them during inspections and educational visits to identify any issues and how to overcome them.

Pierce County has about 3,800 food establishments. We inspect every one of them at least once a year. Depending on the type of food establishment, our inspectors might visit them up to four times a year. That’s no small task. In 2016—the most recent year for which we have totals—our 11 very busy field staff did 704 routine inspections each. On top of that, they did 940 follow-up inspections and 1,950 inspections at temporary events like fairs and festivals.

When you go out to eat, you should not have to worry about getting sick. Food inspections are how we make sure restaurants, food trucks, cafés, and grocery stores follow food safety best practices like:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water.
  • Use gloves to handle ready-to-eat foods like bread, a cooked hamburger patty, or salad bar items.
  • Keep hot food at 135°F or above and cold food at 41°F or below.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

We want food establishments to succeed. In the end, their goal is the same as ours: to provide a safe dining experience for you and your family. Food safety best practices make this possible and help keep foodborne illness at bay.

Violations and Scores

You can find a two-year history of inspections online for food establishments in Pierce County. On each inspection report, you will see the number of violations and a score.

Violations have two types: critical (red) and non-critical (blue). Most of our inspections focus on critical violations—like not washing hands or touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands—because they can cause illness the fastest. Non-critical violations—like dirty refrigerator doors and shelves—can cause safety problems down the road. Each violation has a point value.

For the score, we add up all the critical violation points. The faster a violation can cause illness, the higher its point value:

  • Lack of hand washing—25 points.
  • No gloves when touching ready-to-eat foods—25 points.
  • No current food worker card—Five points.

If food establishments get a score of 35 or more critical points, we intervene to help them. The inspector will work with the food staff on how to prevent future violations, then return for a follow-up inspection to make sure they keep up the good work. 

The next time you go out to eat, remember the dedicated team of food inspectors who work every day to keep the food at your favorite eateries safe.


Report a Foodborne Illness—Tell us if you think you may have gotten sick after dining out. 

Report a Food Safety Concern—If you see unsafe conditions where food is sold or served.

Food Establishment Closures List—Establishments we close because they pose a significant threat to public health.

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